A 27-year-old Marine sergeant faces a court-martial in the abuse of an Iraqi prisoner who was given electric shocks at a makeshift detention facility, Marine officials said.
Sgt. Matthew K. Travis, of Paducah, Ky., is the highest-ranking of four Marines who have been charged in the April 13 incident. Two privates pleaded guilty last month to abusing the prisoner and were given prison sentences and bad-conduct discharges. A third private faces a court-martial in late July.
At a military hearing Tuesday in western Iraq, Travis was scheduled to face a general court-martial from July 24 to 28. He was charged in May with conspiracy to commit cruelty and maltreatment, conspiracy to commit assault, dereliction of duty, attempted cruelty and maltreatment, making a false official statement, assault consummated by a battery, attempted assault consummated by a battery and disobeying a lawful order.
In several e-mails responding to questions from The Washington Post, Travis said he was not present at the time of the incident, which occurred inside a temporary holding facility in Mahmudiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. "I'm looking at 17 years for something I didn't do," he wrote.
The Marines have disclosed little about the abuse incident. Maj. Douglas M. Powell, a senior Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon, said he was unable to provide any information about the cases and referred questions to Marine officers in Iraq who can be reached only by e-mail.
Most of the controversy involving treatment of detainees in Iraq has centered on the Army's actions at Abu Ghraib prison and other centers. The other significant prison abuse incident involving the Marines is the death of Nagem Sadoon Hatab, an Iraqi who died at Camp Whitehorse, a facility near Nasiriyah, last June. Two Marines face a court-martial in that death.
The four Marines charged in the electric-shock case are infantrymen from one unit, Company G of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. They left for Iraq in February.
According to Travis, the unit was given little notice and virtually no preparation before being assigned to guard prisoners. "It was a last-minute thing," he wrote. "We didn't get good training."
A Marine spokesman in Iraq said in a statement that unit members were told they would be handling detainees as part of a general pre-deployment training that included instructions on how to conduct patrols, searches and other combat operations. The spokesman, Lt. Eric M. Knapp, did not say whether the unit received specialized training for prison guard duty.
The unit took control of the facility in Mahmudiyah from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division on March 24. About a month later, the unit was reassigned to help put down the insurgency that swept the western city of Fallujah.
On April 13, a group of Marines allegedly disciplined an Iraqi prisoner who had been misbehaving by shocking him with a live power wire attached to a converter that delivered 110 volts of electricity.
Pfc. Andrew J. Sting and Pfc. Jeremiah J. Trefney, both 19, pleaded guilty May 14 to charges related to the abuse. Sting was sentenced to one year in confinement and Trefney received eight months. A third Marine, Pfc. Joshua R. Gabbey, also 19, faces a court-martial next month on similar charges.
According to Travis, the holding facility was small, with 16 detainees confined in a canvas tent and about 20 others in metal cages.
"We would punish a detainee for talking or misbehaving by making him stand for about 45 min[utes] or put[ting] him in a cage outside by himself," Travis wrote.
Travis contends the Marines are rushing his and the other criminal cases to avoid embarrassment similar to that suffered by the Army.
"The Marines want to get this over [as] quickly as possible so it doesn't give them a black eye," Travis said. "When they saw and heard about what the Army was doing, they tried to hurry with the trial and keep it on hush."
A senior Marine defense lawyer also has expressed concern. The lawyer, Lt. Col. Colby C. Vokey, emphasized that he was not accusing the Marine Corps of any impropriety, but said the speed with which Sting and Trefney were found guilty was unusual. Vokey is the Marine Corps's regional defense counsel for the western United States and oversees the defense lawyers for the four Marines charged in the abuse.
"The process from the time of charge to the guilty plea was very quick, much more rapid than is common with the court-martial process," Vokey said in a telephone interview from Camp Pendleton, Calif. "It has been one of my concerns in the case. I just can't give you a reason why they proceeded so fast, other than to say that the case proceeded much faster than the standard case proceeds. There was a sense of urgency on the part of the prosecution that these cases be tried quickly."
Sting's father, Jeff Sting, said his son told him he had been given "about 30 minutes" to accept the plea offer from the military. "He wasn't offered the opportunity to seek any advice from beyond his legal counsel," Jeff Sting said in an interview. Sting's military lawyer, Maj. Steven P. Logan, did not respond to requests for comment.
Knapp defended the handling of Sting's case. "The court-martial was not rushed," he wrote. "Sting had a pretrial agreement and was pleading guilty. There was nothing to wait around for once he decided this and received a pretrial agreement."
Knapp also disputed that the timing of the court-martial was related to Abu Ghraib. The investigation into abuse at that prison began in January, and the photographs of abuse that created a public scandal were released in late April.
"The investigation and decision to charge those Marines was made in early April," when the electric-shock abuse was discovered, he said. "So it is ridiculous to say that this was in response to Abu Ghraib, because the dates don't coincide. No one here knew anything about Abu Ghraib yet."